Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Meet peat

Since the 1950s peat has been used by gardeners as one of the finest soil amendments for ericaceous plants (including heathers, azaleas and rhododendrons), as a mulch, and as a growing medium.

But peat is collected from wetlands, which harbour many rare and endangered species, and can take centuries to regenerate.

"In the past half century, 94 per cent of Britain's lowland peat bogs have been lost," says garden writer and BBC personality Monty Don. Which is what lead him to search out an alternative to peat.

He found it growing wild on his farm. Pteridium aquilinum, or, bracken fern, he says, is an excellent addition to compost for acid-loving plants. Trimming off the top of the plant for mulch and compost can also help bring the competitive weed under control without using chemical herbicides.

When I was a kid, I used to carefully "harvest" bracken, strip the leaves except for a frond or two at the end, and then use the poor fern as a "spear." Thankfully, I didn't completely decimate them, so my mom still has bracken growing everywhere. But what if you don't have access to endless bracken fern? Must you use peat?

In a word, no. Garden Organic has a good article on making your own peat-free potting composts. Peat alternatives, they suggest, can be made from the following:

Worm castings
Comfrey leafmould
Composted bark or fine-grade wood waste
Composted manure
Garden compost
Coir (a by-product of the coconut industry)
Brewery Grains

Chose your peat-alternative based on its planned use.

Next time you reach for peat, reach for bracken or coir instead; and save the peat bogs!

Via UBC Botanical Garden Weblog.


Blogger Takoma Gardener said...

Great posts, Andrea.

2:56 PM  

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